PAR_sidebar2As grocery stores offer more and more prepared foods to consumers in their delis, they need to keep in mind the safety of what they sell. “It’s important for them to have proper planning in place before they start taking on some of these new products,” says Martin Bucknavage, Senior Food Safety Extension Associate at Penn State. Smaller chains and independent grocery stores are at a disadvantage because they don’t necessarily have the technical support that large retail chains do, he adds. “It’s important for them to really understand what the risks are,” Bucknavage says. The risks associated with food prepared by grocery stores are the same as the general foodborne illness risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: purchasing food from unsafe sources, failing to cook food correctly, holding food at incorrect temperatures, contaminated equipment, and poor personal hygiene. Bucknavage thinks it can be dangerous to identify one risk as more critical than the others for grocery stores. Making sure display cases stay out of the “danger zone” (between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F) is important, but so, too, is employee health and cross-contamination prevention. One source of potential contamination is a meat slicer that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned. In addition, each store deals with different foods, processes, equipment and staff that can change the extent of the danger posed by different food safety risks. The Food and Drug Administration says that control of foodborne illness risk starts with having a knowledgeable person in charge, such as a certified food manager, who fosters a culture of food safety in the organization, followed by food safety management systems in place to help control risks. Marjorie Jones, head of Client Management Retail at NSF International, says that certain steps are critical for an effective food safety program: action from the highest levels of the company, standard operating procedures (SOPs) and good manufacturing practices (GMPs), employee training, and verification inspections and testing. The food safety program also needs to be implemented before any training, auditing or testing happens, Jones adds. The SOPs and GMPs used to train employees are typically developed to follow the recommendations of the FDA Model Food Code and any state or local requirements. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)